Thanksgiving is a time for family. Not just your familiar family but also your spouse’s family. Your spouse’s strange, weird family.
One Thanksgiving that we spent at my in-laws’ is one I won’t forget.
Soon after we arrived on Wednesday, my wife’s parents offered to show us the turkey that would be the centerpiece of our next-day’s feast. I expected to be ushered over to the refrigerator, but instead I was led outside onto the screened porch. “We read an article about thawing the turkey on a porch so it doesn’t take up all the room in the refrigerator.”
“Wow, Phyllis. How resourceful. How long has it been out here?”
“Oh, a few days.”
I noticed that the porch wasn’t very cool. In fact, I thought it was kind of warmish. The screening had been lined with thick plastic, and I also noticed a running space heater. “What’s the heater for?” I asked.
“That’s so the plants don’t get cold.”
Then I was shown the turkey. My eyes widened, and I shot my wife a sideways glance. Here on an uncovered platter was the inside-side of a sawed-in-half raw turkey: smooth-cut bones and smooth-cut cartilage—a cross-section view of a turkey’s skeletal structure like you’d expect from a biology-class turkey anatomy lesson. It was not appetizing. And I wondered, “How can you stuff half a turkey?” My father-in-law proudly explained, “We’re saving the other half for Christmas. I cut it with my table saw.”
“Wow, Bob,” I said. “Who knew your woodworking skills would come in so handy for food preparation?”
My wife gently pointed out the health danger and repeatedly tried to persuade her parents to move the mutilated carcass to more trustworthy refrigeration but with no luck.
The next day at dinner, our table was far from traditional. The sitting-up, symmetrical, whole, perky turkey was absent from our tableau. Our dissected half-bird lay on its side—as if it had been brutally murdered. Our table was certainly no Norman Rockwell painting. No, not Norman Rockwell. More like Norman Bates.
And when Dad-in-Law raised the knife above his head and began stabbing (I mean carving) the fowl thing in front of us, the social awkwardness reached its peak, for my wife and I had decided we would avoid eating even the smallest bit of what surely had to be food-poisoning flesh. This would be a totally turkey-less Thanksgiving, but there was no way I was going to risk spending the rest of the holiday in the bathroom with Sam & Ella.
“I’ll just have a small piece to start,” I said. “The smaller the better,” I thought since I had to hide it under the other food on my plate. I had to make some pretense of eating it, so I cut it up into ever-smaller chunks and secreted these under the lettuce in my salad.
Meanwhile, my in-laws were stuffing themselves with what I was sure would necessitate a Thanksgiving-afternoon race to the Emergency Room.
After dinner, my wife and I watched our hosts with intense suspense and scrutiny, but the expected debacle of digestion never materialized. “How can this be?” I wondered, and then I remembered the scientific studies being conducted on vultures to discover why they don’t get sick from eating spoiled carrion. Obviously, these studies should have been expanded to include my in-laws.
Thanksgiving is about family and giving thanks, so I distracted myself from my hunger that afternoon by counting my blessings. “Dear Lord, thank you that I did not ridiculously overeat this Thanksgiving; thank you that I escaped the misery of food poisoning; and thank you most of all that despite being raised by two such odd parents, my wife turned out (relatively) normal.” Yes, I truly had much to be thankful for.
Not the least of which was that we’d already decided to spend Christmas—thank goodness—at home.